Thursday, June 17, 2004

Term of endearment 

Both SportsProf and Daniel Drezner are all over the University of Colorado's president, Elizabeth Hoffman, who is at the ugly end of press coverage after giving some unfortunate testimony in a deposition.

Most of TigerHawk's American readers are at least dimly aware of the scandals involving the University of Colorado's football program, which have involved any number of -- shall we say -- poorly measured public statements by University officials (Drezner's example being Coach Gary Barnett calling his female placekicker, who has alleged that another player raped her, "an awful player"). Now the President Hoffman, a medievalist trapped in a deposition, has taken the position that the "C word" is a term of "endearment":
Question: Don't you agree with me that that word (the C-word) is a filthy, vile, offensive word?

President: That word is - yeah. I mean that is a swear word.

Question: I didn't ask you that. I asked you if you would not agree with me that that is a filthy and vile word?

President: I think it's a swear word.

Question: So, you will not agree with me; that's what you're saying?

President: It's all in the context of what - of how it is used and when it is used.

Question: Can you - can you indicate to me any polite context in which that word would be used?

President: Yes. I've actually heard it used as a term of endearment.

Forgive me, but I both find this exchange hilarious and ironic and I have some sympathy for President Hoffman.

I find this hilarious, because it exposes the stupidity of harrassment litigation in our time. It is absurd that the use of any four letter word should somehow be probative of anything but bad taste, but in our crazy world millions of dollars can turn on the use of such words in the wrong setting. So trial lawyers all over the country now demand that university presidents, executives, entrepreneurs and line supervisors carefully explain, under oath, what they mean when they say something crude. Fuck that shit, man.

I also find this ironic. Without knowing a thing about President Hoffman's political views -- and I suppose there is some chance that the experience of having been deposed may have altered those views -- American universities have led the way in assigning liability to those who use bad words, or express bad thoughts. Perhaps President Hoffman's experience will remind university administrators that they have a lot to lose when they pass rules against the use of words, or the expression of opinions.

I also have sympathy for President Hoffman, who is a medieval scholar called upon to argue the meaning of a very old word with a trial lawyer. By dint of her expertise, she in fact knows a lot more about the various meanings of the "C word," over the centuries, than most Americans, and she is quite correct that for most of history it did not have the strongly negative connotation that it has today. Unfortunately, depositions are not used to "discover" facts, notwithstanding their intended purpose under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Trial lawyers take depositions to destroy the credibility of the parties to the case and key witnesses on their behalf, and that is what happened to President Hoffman.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jun 19, 07:45:00 AM:

True enough, but I think we can safely say that she was not well prepared for her deposition.  

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